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Assessment centres – best practice

This guide will provide you with tips and ideas to help you successfully plan an
assessment centre as part of your recruitment process.


In terms of selecting people for jobs, assessment centres are one of the most
effective ways to predict whether candidates are going to perform in the way you
want them to do when they are in post.

Assessment centres do not have to be costly, resource intensive or complex. A

simple assessment day made up of three different exercises such as an interview, a
written exercise and a service user interaction exercise where candidates are seen
by more than one interviewer or assessor is a more effective way of selecting
candidates than relying on an interview alone.

Different assessment exercises

The table below outlines the strengths and limitations of different assessment
exercises and tools which you could consider including in your assessment day.

Strengths Limitations
Values/ Can provide good evidence Requires skilled, trained
behaviour/ for how candidates behave in interviewers to probe candidates’
competency real situations and what their responses to questions and
based values, behaviours, attitude encourage participants to open up.
interviews and motivations are.
Candidates need to be sent
information in advance from the
organisation to come prepared with
examples to share.

Role plays Useful way of assessing a Requires preparation and

candidate’s social and development time to ensure role
communication skills, plays are realistic and role players
empathy and ability to are well prepared and briefed.
influence others in job
relevant situations. The response of the candidate will
be affected by the role player’s
actions and behaviours which may
not be standardised for every

Group Can provide useful evidence Group dynamics of a particular

Exercises of teamwork and ability to group of candidates can affect the
interact and communicate performance of individuals.
with others. Can also assess
ability to flex their approach Requires a group of candidates to
and style to others. be assessed at the same time
which may be resource intensive
and assessors may find it difficult to
record all that is said.

Written Can usefully assess written Failure to understand the task or an

exercise communication skills, analysis inability to produce written work
and problem solving. under time pressure may result in
written communication which
If using a real life example appears below the standard
from the workplace can required.
provide the candidate with a
realistic preview of the job. Disability must be considered and
reasonable adjustments made for
candidates where required.

Takes time to mark the written


In tray/ Can usefully assess a Failure to understand the task or an

Prioritisation candidate’s ability to plan and inability to produce written work
exercises prioritise their time under time pressure may result
management and problem incomplete plans being drawn up.
solving skills.
Disability must be considered and
If using a real life example reasonable adjustments made for
from the workplace can candidates where required.
provide the candidate with a
realistic preview of the job. Takes time to mark the exercise.

Ability tests – A valid, standardised and May be expensive to administer

Numerical well-structured way to test and produce reports.
reasoning or whether candidates have
Verbal certain abilities that are Must be relevant to the role being
Reasoning required for the job. recruited to avoid unfair
Personality A valid, standardised and Tests measure a candidate’s
profiling well-structured way to identify preferences and should not be
psychometric personality traits and types in used to screen candidates out
tests different candidates. without asking further questions at
If the tests have been interview to check the information
developed for and tested with within the psychometric against the
roles relevant to the role you role you are recruiting for.
are recruiting for e.g. for Care
Workers, the test can allow
you to compare candidates
against a proven “ideal”
Best practice when designing an assessment exercise

1. Before designing any assessment exercises look at the job description and
person specification and think about what makes the difference between good
and poor performance in the job. Then produce a set of criteria which you want to
assess all candidates against. The British Psychological Society suggests an
ideal number of criteria are between 6 and 12.

For example

 Organisational skills
 Teamwork
 Self-motivation and ability to work on own initiative
 Flexibility in approach to others
 Written communication
 Verbal communication

2. Each of the criteria should be defined in terms of positive and negative indicators
of what assessors would expect to see and not want to see candidates
demonstrating for each exercise to enable them to fairly assess all candidates.

For example


Positive Indicators Negative Indicators

 Listens to others point of view  Ignores others point of view
 Shows understanding and empath  Is dismissive of others point of view
for others point of view  Leaves people isolated, does not
 Brings other people in and involves involve them
them  Works in a silo from others to
 Is supportive of working with others achieve the end goal
to achieve an end goal

3. Think about the requirements of the job and what the job involves to decide which
assessment exercises are the most appropriate. For example, a written exercise
is only appropriate if the role involves a significant amount of writing. A role play
is appropriate if the role involves one on one conversations with clients, it is not
appropriate for office based roles with no client interaction.

Design assessments exercises which are relevant to the job and which give
candidates a realistic preview of the job but care must be taken to ensure these
do not disadvantage candidates who may have no previous experience of this
type of work or require any prior knowledge.
Exercises can be designed in house which are inexpensive but require some
internal expertise and experience in designing assessments. Or like
psychometrics test they can be purchased from other organisations. This can be
expensive and may mean that you are using exercises which are not an exact fit
for your organisation but which are well developed and validated.

Example exercises for Care Worker posts

Group exercise You are a group of care workers who have been asked by your
organisation to attend a focus group to help the organisation to
think about how it can better market itself as a place to work to
people who may not have thought about applying to work for
this organisation or thought about going into care work.

Your manager has asked you as a group to come up with a list

of reasons why you think people should come to work for this
organisation and to come to work in care. And also to come up
with a list of ideas for how they can better market themselves to
potential recruits.

You have 15 minutes for your discussion and to make notes on

the flip chart provided and at the end of the discussion you are
asked to hand in your written suggestions to the assessors.

Role play You have been asked to meet with the son of one of the people
you provide care to, Margaret Ward, as he is concerned that his
mother is not getting everything she needs from her care
package and he wants to discuss some ideas and concerns he
has with you. You have been given a profile of Margaret and
the care she has been receiving over the past 6 months.

Your task is to meet with Margaret’s son and to listen to and

respond to his concerns.

The meeting will last 10 minutes. There will be a role player

acting as Margaret’s son and an assessor in the room making
notes who will not be contributing to the discussion.

Written One of the people you provide care for, John, is going to be
exercise moving into a care home in the next few weeks and you have
been asked to provide a one page summary of his care needs
and the service you have been providing him with over the past
two years so that it can be sent to the care home with his file.

You have been provided with several pieces of information

about the work that you have been doing with John. Your task
is to summarise this into a one page report which can be sent to
his care home. You have 20 minutes to undertake this task.
In tray You have been on holiday for two weeks and have come back
to work to a backlog of work that you need to prioritise and then
start to work through. You have been provided with a number of
documents including emails, phone messages, reports and
letters which relate to your work and people you are responsible
for providing care to.

Your task is to read through the different documents and to

decide on which are the most and least urgent and how you will
respond to each.

You should complete the prioritisation plan you have been

provided with starting with the most important priority and how
you will deal with that and finishing with your least important
priority and how you will deal with that. You have 20 minutes to
complete the task.

4. Think about how you will assess candidates against the criteria in each exercise.
It is helpful to produce an assessment matrix so you know you are assessing
each criterion at least twice in different exercises.

For example

Assessment Exercise
criteria Interview Written exercise Role play
Organisational X X

Teamwork X X

Self-motivation/ X X
Flexibility X X

Verbal X X

Written X

5. Ensure all assessors have clear briefs for each exercise including what the
candidates are required to do and what criteria they are assessing the candidates
against. Where possible assessors should be trained or at least briefed in detail
on what is required of them when assessing candidates. Assessors should not
also be role players as it is difficult to focus on role playing and assessing at the
same time.
6. A rating scale should be developed and applied consistently to each exercise to
allow candidates performance to be compared across different exercises. The
British Psychological Society recommends using a scale of between 5 and 7

For example

Poor Satisfactory Good Excellent

7. It is important to plan the logistics of the day in advance to ensure you have
sufficient rooms available and staff available to assess candidates. It is helpful to
do a timetable of the day for each candidate so they are aware what will be
happening to them and the assessors are aware who they are seeing at different
points in the day.

For example

Time Exercise Room/ Assessor

9.30am Arrival and paperwork JC, Room 3

Interview – values and KN & GT, Room 6
LK, JH, ED, Room 4
10.30am Meet the clients exercise
JC, Room 3
11am Written exercise

8. Details of the assessment day should be sent to candidates in advance with any
information they need to prepare for the assessments if relevant. Candidates
should also be asked if they have any requirement for reasonable adjustments to
be made to the assessment day in order to enable them to participate fully.

9. Where possible any exercises should be piloted and tested before being used
with real candidates such as by getting existing staff to try out the exercises.
Once any amendments have been made the exercises should be finalised and
copies of all exercises and how they are assessed should be kept in a central
place in the organisation to ensure consistency of use.

Further guidance

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

British Psychological Society